“Daddy,” the little boy said, “it’s Saturday. Will you teach me how to fish?
“Son, why do you suddenly want to learn how to fish?” the father asked, as he looked at the email inbox that was filling up even on a Saturday and the stack of papers he had to review before Monday.
“Because, ” the boy said, “Miss Johnson said in Sunday School that if you give a man a fish, he will eat, but if you teach him how to fish, he will flourish. She said we should always teach people how to fish. I can’t teach something I don’t know how to do.”
The father smiled, noticing five new emails, and then he remembered a Sunday morning 30 years ago when a Sunday School Teacher named Mrs. Weathers told him about teaching men to fish. He remembered his favorite uncle taking him fishing, and that they didn’t catch anything. They caught nothing the next time. But, eventually, they did.
He grew up, got married, got a job, and had children. Then the emails started, and the meetings, and the stacks of paper that had to be reviewed.
“Daddy,” his son said interrupting his thoughts, “will you teach me how to fish?”
The Jessie F. Richardson Foundation, headquartered in Clackamus, Oregon teaches people how to fish. The Foundation, begun by my friend Keren Brown Wilson, an acknowledged pioneer in the field of aging services, recruited me to help the Foundation five years ago and took me to Nicaragua for the very first time, showing me the plight of poor, abandoned elders there. Most of them had little to no food, no decent housing, no family or friends and no hope.
When I asked her, “Why Nicaragua – why tackle this enormous problem in this small, unknown country ravaged by politics, nature and poverty?” She simply said, “Because I can. I can help fix this and so can you.”
I’ve had the privilege of serving on the JFR Foundation Board of Directors for the past two years and of recruiting my beloved friend, Carron Suddreth, owner of Wilkes Senior Village in North Wilkesboro, to our board and our cause. In my time on the board, I’ve seen the true meaning of teaching men to fish, not just giving them fish. Our Foundation’s motto is “a world of hurt, a world of hope.”
The Foundation doesn’t just write checks for poor elders. Instead, we build community infrastructure, we teach, we organize and we demand that the checks we write, the goods we give and the time we invest have “legs” – that local communities take our work, claim it as their own, and build upon it. We teach them how to fish.
On January 15, 2012, Carron Suddreth and I took a team of NC long term care professionals to Nicaragua to teach the Nicaraguan elders and their caregivers how to fish. Our goal was to start the first activities program for poor, abandoned elders living in five Nicaraguan homes for the elderly. Our belief was that minds need nurturing as bodies need food – these people deserve something to do all day besides exist. Our team consisted of Angie Bunton, RN from Wilkes Senior Village; Brenda Zimmerman from Lutheran Home of Salisbury; Erica Johnson from Liberty of Wilmington; and Jamie Phillips from Avante of Wilkesboro.
The following stories chronicle some of my most memorable moments from this amazing adventure. We didn’t give these people fish. We taught them how to fish. We didn’t take with us graphite rods and reels and fancy fishing lures. We took cane poles and worms. We planted seeds. Our efforts were supported by and coordinated by the JFR Foundation and its’ founder, Keren Wilson.
I hope you enjoy these stories. More than that, I hope they move you to go fishing and then to teach someone else how to fish.